Cataracts Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

A cataract is an eye condition in which the lens of the eye loses transparency. It is associated with aging. In the United States, most people age 80 and over either have cataracts or have undergone cataract surgery to have them removed.

Cataracts can be safely removed in an outpatient procedure. Still, they can cause significant visual problems for some who may not have access to this treatment. Worldwide, about 94 million people have moderate to severe vision impairment due to untreated cataracts.

In the United States, cataract removal is one of the most common surgical procedures. After having cataracts removed, 9 out of 10 people see better.

This article will highlight key facts and statistics that are important for everyone to know about cataracts.

Cataracts Overview

With cataracts, the natural lens of the eye, the part that directs rays onto the light-sensitive retina, is clouded. With age or injury, the protein strands in the lens can begin to break down, causing the lens to become cloudy and the world to look hazy, blurred, or somewhat drab.

How Common Are Cataracts?

Some types of cataracts are uncommon. Congenital cataracts present at or soon after birth can be found in just 2 out of every 10,000 births.

But age-related cataracts are very common. In the United States alone, 24.4 million people over age 40 have cataracts. Approximately 6.1 million Americans have undergone cataract surgery to have their lenses removed.

For people of all ages in the United States, cataracts have a prevalence of about 17 out of every 100 people in a year. But this rises steeply after age 60, and almost everyone will have cataracts or have had them removed by age 80.

It is projected that in the 50-year span from 2000 to 2050 the number of people with cataracts in the United States will grow by almost 2.5 times.

Cataracts by Ethnicity

White Americans tend to be diagnosed with cataracts more than other groups in the country. Diagnostic prevalence in the United States includes:

  • White people: 19 out of 100
  • Black people: 13 out of 100
  • Hispanic people: 12 out of 100

A 2018 study of beneficiaries of Medicare and the Veterans Health Administration showed that there continued to be a racial disparity in receiving cataract surgery that had been identified in prior studies. Black Americans compared to White Americans were less likely to receive cataract surgery by five years after diagnosis.

Cataracts by Age and Gender

The older you are, the more likely you are to develop age-related cataracts. Some experts estimate about 50% of people have a cataract by age 60. This continues to rise so that by age 80, 90% of people would have developed a cataract.

A study found the median age for a person's first cataract surgery in the years 2001 to 2011 was 67.7 years. Females are somewhat more likely than males to be diagnosed with cataracts and have cataract surgery.

Causes of Cataracts and Risk Factors

There are several types of cataracts. The types and causes include:

  • Age-related cataracts: This most common type, which usually develops after age 40, occurs when proteins in the lens break down gradually over time.
  • Traumatic cataracts: These occur after an injury such as a poke in the eye or exposure to chemicals.
  • Congenital cataracts: Children can be born with these or develop them early in life. They are usually of genetic origin but can happen due to a complication of pregnancy.
  • Radiation cataracts: Some cataracts can be caused by radiation, including the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun.

Some people are more prone to developing cataracts than others. Risk factors for developing cataracts include the following:

  • Having diabetes
  • Spending time in the sun, such as living in a sunny area
  • Smoking
  • Consuming too much alcohol
  • A family history of cataracts
  • Eye injury, eye surgery, or upper body radiation treatment
  • Using corticosteroids

What Are the Mortality Rates for Cataracts?

Having a cataract removed seems to have a beneficial effect on mortality (how long you live). It may improve health by allowing people to remain independent.

In a study with 74,044 females with cataracts (with a mean age of 70.5). investigators found that the mortality incidence was lower for those who underwent cataract removal. Those who had their cataract removed had an all-mortality incidence of just 1.52 per 100 person years vs. 2.56 among those with cataracts who didn't have these removed.

Screening and Early Detection

For adults over age 60, it is recommended that you have a dilated eye exam, in which your pupil is temporarily widened, at least once every two years to check for the development of cataracts. These can sometimes come on so gradually that your vision may be becoming impaired and you may not even notice this.

Cataracts can lead to visual difficulties such as:

  • Trouble driving at night
  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing double
  • Faded colors

Usually, you will be advised to have your cataracts removed when you start to have difficulty doing common everyday activities, such as driving and reading.

Screening for congenital cataracts is particularly important. If cataracts are not removed early, the child's visual system may not develop properly. They may develop problems with their side or central vision.

If just one eye has a cataract, a child may develop what's known as amblyopia, or lazy eye. If the lazy eye is not treated, the child may never have the ability to see well in that eye.

To screen for cataracts in babies or young children, a healthcare provider may use what's known as a red reflex exam. With this test, which can be done without widening the child's pupil, a light is shone in the child's eye. If there is a cataract present, it will be detected.

To preserve vision, cataract removal at 6 weeks of age or less is recommended for cases involving cataracts in one eye and at less than 10 weeks of age for cataracts in both eyes.


Cataracts, particularly in those age 40 and older, are very common, with 24,400,000 people in the United States affected. Such cataracts occur when the proteins of the lens begin to break down, causing the lens to become cloudy.

While cataracts affect people of any sex or ethnicity, they tend to be diagnosed more often among White people and females. Also, the older you are, the more likely you are to have a cataract. However, some cataracts affect babies and need to be promptly removed to ensure the visual system develops properly.

Screening for cataracts is important. These need to be removed when they begin to affect daily life.

14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Maxine Lipner
Maxine Lipner is a long-time health and medical writer with over 30 years of experience covering ophthalmology, oncology, and general health and wellness.